16 February 2014

Liverpool 1-2 Arsenal

Oxlade-Chamberlain 16'
Podolski 47'
Gerrard 59' (pen)

If Liverpool score on one, if not both, of its early chances, this ends very differently. But Daniel Sturridge did not score in either the 2nd or 5th minute, both times needing to take the shot with his weaker right foot, the first saved by Fabianski, the second hit into the side-netting.

For the next hour or so, Arsenal mostly did to Liverpool what Liverpool did to Arsenal eight days ago. Obviously, without the sadistic ruthlessness in front of goal, partly due to Liverpool's defending, partly due to Arsenal's weaknesses up front. But after getting a goal of their own, a slightly fortunate rebound falling to Oxlade-Chamberlain after Liverpool failed to clear a free kick, they were able to sit deeper, absorb and stifle Liverpool's attack, and attempt to expose the away side on the break.

Liverpool failed to test Fabianski between the 5th and 43rd minutes, smothered by Arsenal after entering Arsenal's half, pressed well by Arsenal's front four players. Liverpool desperately missed its own high pressing, a big feature of the last meeting, and yes, Liverpool desperately missed Jordan Henderson. And yes, Howard Webb was his very own sideshow in the first half, handing out yellows with little rhyme or reason, and only giving yellow for what was a red card-worthy tackle by Monreal. But England's Best Referee™ wasn't the reason Liverpool lost. At least not until the second half.

And the second half started in almost the exact same manner. Suarez denied by a wonderful Fabianski save, then Arsenal immediately storm down the field, a lightning attack through Oxlade-Chambelain's speed, Podolski hammering in the winger's cutback.

Instead of cementing the result, Arsenal's second only catalyzed Liverpool, exacerbated by bringing on Henderson for Cissokho, shifting Flanagan to left-back and Sterling to right-back. But Liverpool had gotten themselves back into the game before the substitution. Suarez fired a blistering warning shot just over Fabianski's goal, then won a deserved penalty when tripped by Podolski in the box. I know, right? Howard Webb, Liverpool penalty. We should have known to enjoy it while it lasted.

Gerrard stepped up, sending Fabianski the wrong way. It was probably Fabianski's only mistake of the game, as three minutes later, Arsenal's keeper saved the match. Sturridge put through by Coutinho's delicious throughball, finally on his preferred left foot, but somehow denied by the Pole's sprawling right leg.

At that point, it looked a matter of time before Liverpool leveled matters. And they should have had the chance in the 65th minute when Suarez was blatantly felled by Oxlade-Chamberlain after seeing his free kick cannon off the wall. You could see Webb's thought process from a mile away. "Shit, I've just given him a penalty. I can't give him another one just three minutes later. I'll just pretend it didn't happen. You're the best, Howard."

Sigh. To be fair, Webb was atrocious for both sides. He should have sent Gerrard off for a second yellow in the 75th. I'm sure he thought that it all worked out brilliantly. I have banged this drum time and time again, and I detest devoting this much space in a match review to the referee, but it's unavoidable. Referees need to call the incident, not the situation. Liverpool should have had a second penalty. Liverpool should have spent the last 15 minutes down to 10 men, with Gerrard suspended for next weekend's match against Swansea. Howard Webb is almost always the worst offender in this regard. And somehow he's considered the country's best referee. The mind boggles.

After the non-penalty, the game became stretched, with chances increasingly fewer and farther between. Liverpool had three shots on target, two from Suarez, one from Coutinho, but all three were straight at Fabianski. Cazorla, on as a substitute, could have settled the match, but airmailed his shot from the top of the box. Liverpool's best opportunity, unsurprisingly, came from an 86th minute set play, but Agger headed Gerrard's free kick narrowly wide. And yes, Webb could have given yet another penalty as Fabianski punched Agger straight in the head after the Dane got to the ball first. He didn't even contemplate doing so, with the final seven minutes all sound and fury signifying nothing until Webb's whistle finally blew.

Surprisingly enough, most of today's complaints (besides those about the referee, obviously) are about Liverpool's attack. It had to happen sometime; just 'one of those days' for both Sturridge and Suarez. It hasn't happened often. Liverpool's midfield was decent in the first half, and very good in the second half after Henderson came on. Gerrard, along with Sterling, was one of Liverpool's best players: his movement and positioning good, his range of passing in open play spectacular. And it was more than encouraging to see Sterling just as impressive at right-back as he's been as a wide attacker. Liverpool's defense was unlucky on the first goal, and ripped asunder by an excellent counter on the second. No defense was stopping that goal. Agger's return clearly improved the side despite two goals conceded, with everyone seemingly far calmer at the back. Yes, Arsenal's starting XI was weaker, but there was a vast difference between today's performance and Liverpool's last visit to the Emirates.

Liverpool can feel aggrieved, and take heart from how they played in the second half. Arsenal can have the extra match, hopefully matches. I wouldn't trade today for last Saturday in a million years.

On another day, on most days, Sturridge finishes one, if not more, of his three excellent chances. On another day, that rebound doesn't fall straight to Oxlade-Chamberlain, giving Arsenal a lucky lead they'd never relent. On another day, this match has another referee. So be it.

All focus returns to the league. Where it should be. Liverpool have 12 matches to seal the needed fourth place finish, if not improving on it.


Anonymous said...

We played well enough to win that game. Our finishing let us down. And the Arse got a break from the rebound on the Ox goal.

Great to have DAgger back. Composed at the back with the ball at his feet. Settles the entire back line down. He should have had a goal on that header. Just a little wide. Probably pulled back just a bit seeing the keeper was going to punch him in the head.

If I had to choose between a tie or a loss, I'd go with the loss considering the critical nature of us retaining our current league position. A tie would mean a replay against Arsenal followed by a likely home Derby against Everton. We need to fully concentrate on the league and have all of our guys ready for the next 12 games. We don't need any Cup injuries or tired legs leading to us dropping points in the league. A Coutinho, Sterling or Hendo injury would potentially crush our league aspirations. 12 really important matches left.

Champions League for 2014/15 is squarely in our sights now. We can NOT waste this chance.

Oh, how could Howard Webb say he did not see the foul on Suarez. He was looking right at it from 10 yards away. Reminds me of a few of my friends. They'll lie straight to you knowing you know the truth. Then, after saying it for the third time, they actually will have themselves convinced that they are now telling the truth. The psychiatrists have a term for that behavior. It's called a "WEBB"!

Marque Pierre Sondergaard said...

Sturridge is starting to worry me a little bit. Over the past few matches, we have seen a Sturridge that either hesitantly takes one too many touches or overelaborates in order to score himself when he could have passed to an open team mate. Too early to spot a trend, but we all worried about this when he was bought - such was his reputation at Chelsea. One swallow doesn't make a summer, but I'd hate to see another one and we have a bit of a trend going...

Scouse_eh said...

Missed the game but knew I could come here for a reliable recap. Always enjoy these, even when I've watched every second of the game. Thanks again for your hard work on this site.

Anonymous said...

Indeed. Can't agree more.

We shouldn't lost more than 4 points in 12 matches remain while chelsea might lost 6 points (tie with Arsenal, Villa & Liverpool), Man City might lost 6 or 7 points (vs ManU, Liverpool, Everton) and Arsenal around 8-9 points (vs Chelsea, Spurs, Everton, Man City).

So it might be : chelsea 57+30 = 87, mancity 54+33 = 87, liverpool 53+32 = 85, arsenal 56+28 = 84.

3rd position, and we through to Champions League, arsenal do the qualification. That's what i called : revenge.

Anonymous said...

If sturridge worries you think about how much more worried you would be with Aspas and Moses? We will be fine with Daniel.

Siva said...

Thanks for the article Nate.
Myself and my group of friends were once so passionate of English Premier League and FA Cup.
However when the referees are continuously involved in determining the outcome of matches through dubious decision making, many of my friends have totally stop watching these matches.
I wonder why the FA are not taking any serious action on referees such as Webb in this match.
I am afraid this sooner or later will cause the Premier League and FA Cup loses its appeal at least in this part of the world.

Hichem Fenghour said...

i think Arsenal was weak in defence!